This month, I was honored to be featured in Seek Me Magazine, with an interview with Alison Eastwood
I’m nestled on a comfortable leather couch with my back against a World War 2 sweetheart pillow in the homeliest store I’ve ever been to: Raggedy Threads. The vintage store is situated in downtown LA’s little Tokyo and aside from unavoidable shopping, I’m here to interview the owner and my long-time friend, Jamie Wong. This little store is a place unlike its surrounding neighbors. It’s the epitome of authentic vintage, including the storage door that is made out of 100 year old wood from a barn that was being torn down. Jamie describes it as her “little cabin in the woods.” It’s been 12 years since Raggedy Threads opened its doors, so I sat down with Jamie to get the details on everything from surviving the recession to how vintage plays an important role in today’s trends.
Jamie, where did your love of vintage start?
It started when I was really young; I’ve always been a rummager. Because I was such a hyper kid my parents would grab a draw full of random things and I would just dig through them and find things. The love of finding and hunting, seeing what’s out there, whether it’s old or new was exciting.
You’ve had Raggedy Threads now for 12 years. You were quite young when you started the store. How did the idea of starting up the store start?
I grew up in Pomona and in my area there were some really good thrift stores. There was one particular thrift store that I just loved. The couple that owned it were from London and we became really good friends because I would go there all the time, and one day they asked me if I’d be interested in doing the Rose Bowl for them. I didn’t know that much about vintage but I just picked the stuff that I liked and set up every month for them at the Rose Bowl back in 97’. They gave me a commission on what I sold. This was where I learnt a lot about vintage, and the business. I did it for three months before I decided I could do it on my own. I then did it for 12 years. In 2002, I set up my own store. During this time I was still doing cooperate, still going to school, but I literally woke up one day, and I thought, ‘I want to open up my own store.’
My mom was in business so she was able to tell me how to do my taxes, where to get my license and she gave me the middle space of one of her stores. From there I built the business up to be able to move to another space. Then later a friend of mine was moving out of his huge storefront in the Arts District and so I moved into it in 2006. It was the Arts District. It was 6,000 square feet. It was a great space.
The recession hit not long after, how did you survive it?
It was hard. Vintage became really big in the Japanese market. So I had a lot of design clients and a lot of Japanese clients. But getting the stuff was really difficult and I didn’t have a lot of money. Then the recession hit hard. I was struggling. It was the biggest hustle I had done in my life. I didn’t want to lose my business, plus I was stuck on a lease. I was selling any way I could. Doing as many flee markets, calling people, the hustle. I made it through, barely, but I made it. I then got tipped off that there was this space in Little Tokyo that I have now. I ran down, saw it and rented the space. I love it. I can curate it better. This is my 5th year here now.
Who is your customer at Raggedy Threads?
It’s so diverse; I get tourists, even 80 year olds come here. Some people come in here and think it’s a museum! I love that I don’t have a target audience. I have all walks of life come here. I have twelve year olds and their moms! I just sold a 1920’s dress to a 60 year old for her book signing.
I also had a band come in from Australia called, ‘Boy and Bear’ and they bought stuff for their tour. They asked me to their show that night, so I went and I saw them performing wearing the clothes they bought that day. I love dealing with musicians and I love styling them.
What is your favorite thing about selling vintage?
I love seeing the looks on peoples faces when they find something. For me it’s not about the money. I had that struggle, so it’s more about seeing pieces go to a good home because each piece is a story, or the people I’ve got them from have some incredible stories to tell. I also spend a lot of time restoring the pieces and bringing them back to life, I just love it. It’s so nice seeing people enjoying it too. It makes me happy that people like what I like.
Where do you get most of your pieces? You must travel a lot?
Yes, now it’s all travel, work to travel to find stuff. This year alone I’ve been to ten states and some multiple times. I never now just go on holiday. I always go with the intention of finding things. Some trips are just straight for business but when I do go on holidays I’m always looking. My goal is to always go somewhere new every year, and one beach holiday. I’ve been accomplishing that!
Your parents are both from Hong Kong, and you visited Hong Kong a lot growing up. How influenced are you by Asian trends and the market generally?
I do buy Asian magazines; I especially really enjoy reading Japanese magazines. For some reason, they are always on the trends before it hits the US. All the Asian magazine trends are there two years before we get them.
Also if I go to Hong Kong I like buying pieces there because it’s not available here. The cheap stuff in Hong Kong still has a great cut to it.
How much do current trends influence what you buy and how important is vintage in fashion today?
I actually do look at current trends and I have a lot of designers as customers, from fast fashion to high fashion and they come and buy for inspiration. Whether it’s a wash or a cut for the body or for a stitch. So I like to see what they’re doing and what’s current. I have a lot of friends at WGSN (fashion forecasters) so I do keep up with that. As much as I hate going into stores, especially in malls, I have to see what they’re doing because they’re buying from me. So I have to see what patters they’re using, is it fun, what is in this year? What is projected for spring 2015, what colors should I look out for? With vintage, you’re pretty on trend all year long, but there are always specific things, like overalls and indigo’s are in this year, so huge! I’ve been selling them for a while, but it’s off the hook now. My hat sales have gone up because of Pharrell! I’ve always sold hats, but right now, they’re so big!
What are some of the other pieces you are currently selling?
Lately I’ve been really in to Victorian pieces, I have some from late 1800’s, 1940’s. I just think they’re beautiful and finding them and seeing the condition they’re in is amazing. Those pieces have become really popular too. Even the designers are buying them because of the lines, and the lacing. Lace is really big now.
Some of Jamie's favorite victorian pieces.
Jamie has a huge selection of accessories including vintage sunglasses
Any favorite stories behind the pieces you’ve bought?
Mostly the stories I do come across are from the people who I bought it from. I recently picked up some cool biker stuff, goggles and safety stuff and a saddlebag. The story was the guy I bought it from, rode it on his Harley from Puerto Rico to Santé Fe in the 40’s.
Also I picked up some beautiful pieces from the president of the Historical Society in Arcadia. She put on fashion shows for the senior citizens there. She sold me her entire collection from the 80’s. I love her spirit so was an honor to take it over. Some of it I couldn’t sell because she had handmade it and I had kept it so well.
Any other pieces you couldn’t let go of?
I am obsessed with flags because they are all so different. There are also specific hats that I won’t sell. Also my World War II pillows. I love them.
Vintage has become so popular, but have you also seen a growth in the vintage market in Asia?
I’ve had a lot of customers from China, since ‘Mood’ (vintage store) opened up in Hong Kong it’s really opened up the market to vintage. They like the college style or cartoon stuff. My Taiwan customers really like oversized military shirts.
They’re starting to understand the clothing more. It’s become more mainstream now. The vintage they tend to buy is more subtle though. Native American mostly, that stuff is so trendy.
I know you do buy some Asian fashion brands. What are your favorite stores?
Kapital a Japanese brand, they are so inspiring to me. The patchwork, the way they stitch. I also like Visvim, very similar brand and Initial, a Hong Kong brand. I spend so much money in there!
What is your favorite trend of all time?
T-shirts. They will never go away and hats.
The 30’s and 40’s. I love the work behind the clothes. Also 70’s clothing across the board. The Harleys, the hippies, the bohos.
What are your plans going forward?
I am working on my own line of women’s workwear but not so masculine, more tailored. I want to do a workwear line that has more of a feminine cut, less bubbly, and billowy, with good pleats. I want to use denims and linen, comfy stuff. Good t-shirts good hemming. I’m starting with 6 pieces. A Kimono dress, a vest, overalls, blouse and shorts and a Henley t-shirt, which is unisex.
I also want to open up another store. My friend is opening a store in Nashville, so I’m probably going to have a special curated section in his store. That would be great. In addition a vintage accessories store, with vintage hats, customized headbands. It would also be nice to eventually have a store for my own line. I just need to buckle down and do it!
A PEAK INSIDE RAGGEDY THREADS:
Evan Ryan Gosling is a fan of Raggedy Threads!!
Italian blogger, Chiara Ferragni visited Raggedy Threads and found this vintage jacket
Chiara Ferragni wearing her Raggedy Threads vintage jacket out and about in LA
Raggedy Threads is located at:
330 E 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: (213) 620-1188
** Since this interview, Jamie has opened up another Raggedy Threads store in New York :
602 Grand Street,
Brooklyn, NYC 11211